Thousands flock to Bethlehem for Christmas

A+
A
A-

People walk inside the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, ahead of Christmas, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012. AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi

BETHLEHEM, Palestinian Territories — Thousands of Palestinians and tourists were flocking to the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Monday to mark Christmas at the site where many believe Jesus Christ was born.

This year’s celebration carries special significance for many Palestinians, coming after 12 months in which their status on the world stage has been significantly upgraded.

Just last month the United Nations granted them the status of non-member observer state, and earlier this year they won their first UNESCO World Heritage Site designation — for Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity.

The designation also included part of a pilgrimage route in Bethlehem, along which the traditional Christmas procession headed by the Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal will march later Monday.

Thousands of tourists are expected to join Palestinian residents of the city — Muslim and Christian alike — in lining the route to welcome the procession, which includes dozens of musicians and scout troupes from across the West Bank.

The parade will culminate in Manger Square, in front of the Church of the Nativity, which is built over the site where Christians believe Mary gave birth to Jesus in a cattle shed.

Several hours later, Twal, the most senior Roman Catholic bishop in the Middle East, will deliver the traditional midnight mass to the faithful.

Scout troupes were already marching in the square to the rhythm of drums and bagpipes mid-morning, while hundreds of tourists looked on.

The mass is traditionally attended by top officials from the Palestinian Authority including president Mahmud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad.

Last week, in his pre-Christmas press conference, Twal praised the UN decision to upgrade Palestinian status, calling it a “step towards peace and stability in the region.”

“Israel can now negotiate on equal state-to-state terms for the good of all,” he told reporters, saying the Palestinian issue remained “the cause of all conflicts in the region,” and urging US President Barack Obama to take “immediate action” to push the peace process forward.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the Palestinians have seen Israel move forward with settlement activity, including around Bethlehem.

Last week alone, Israel moved forward with plans for over 5,000 new settler homes, most of them in annexed east Jerusalem, and more than 2,500 of them in the Givat HaMatos neighbourhood at the entrance to Bethlehem.

The Palestinians say part of the new settlement activity is intended to punish them for the UN upgrade bid, which was fiercely opposed by Israel and Washington.

But Xavier Abu Eid, an advisor to the Palestine Liberation Organization, said this year’s celebration of Christmas would be particularly meaningful for Palestinians nonetheless.

“At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of the prince of hope and the prince of peace and the Palestinian people have been hoping for 64 years to achieve a just peace,” he told Agence France-Presse.

“After the UN vote we feel a step closer to this just peace we’ve been searching for,” he added. “The UN vote is a turning point in our peaceful struggle for freedom and justice.”

Inquirer Viber

Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of INQUIRER.net. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_U62PHGMKO4RK7BLMC4ACA4EG5A EREC

    BETHLEHEM, Palestinian Territories …. this place will become progressive if they will only give care to the place and preserved those places have connection during the lives of Jesus Christ, even me I want to visit this place. Palestians authority must have have own airport even just for connecting flight in neighboring countries except Israel. Pilgrims must have easy access by land or air travel in their terretory.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_U62PHGMKO4RK7BLMC4ACA4EG5A EREC

    Except Israel because Jews will always against with Palistinians, unless Jews will accept Jesus the Christ and their Messiah. If Jews will still live on the past that teached by the ESKRIBAS, so then there will be no peace and harmony on that place. The best move Palestinian authority must look for other way that pilgrims will not be restricted in Bethlehem during Christmas…..because the gift already within that place only that they must think and do actions to receive that gift to them….. a gift of tourism.

To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.

Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:

c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City,Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94


editors' picks

advertisement

popular

advertisement

videos